— PART 1 of 6 —
The names of our roads came from primarily five sources. Many were named for the first or prominent settler on a given road, such as Hough, Webster, and Farley Roads. Other roads were named for the community, such as Almont, Capac, and Dryden Roads. Some were named for geographic or physical features of the area, such as Tubspring and Sandhill Roads. Others are used as distance markers from a given location, such as 37-Mile Road. And occasionally, the road name came from the origins of the people that settled in a particular area, such as Scotch Settlement Road.
Few records of the origins of the road names are known. As a result, much of what is written below comes from the biographies in Hildamae Waltz Bowman’s book, Almont: The Tale of Then and Now, J. Dee Ellis’ book Pioneer Families and History of Lapeer County, Michigan or is deduced based on research of land and census records. Additionally, the “Find A Grave” website was used to determine burial sites and birth and death dates. I have attributed the naming to the original settlers but it was the efforts of the entire family that contributed to the naming of the road.
Additionally, some of the current road names are not associated with the earliest settlers of Almont–those who came in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Several of the roads are named for settlers in the 1860’s and 1870’s. It was at this time that the first real road construction projects were completed creating the gravel roads we have today. If the road existed before this time and had another name, that name is not known.
In the early 1800s, Oakland County experienced more rapid growth than Lapeer County because it was hilly and had better drainage. Farmers could clear land and immediately begin farming. Lapeer County was flatter and swampier. Not only did the land need to be cleared but also creeks and streams needed to be cleared and the drainage of the area dramatically improved before crops could be planted. Macomb County also grew faster than Lapeer County because it had larger streams and rivers that could be used as transportation routes.
The original surveying work to layout the roads and parcels of land within Lapeer County was begun in 1822. Because of the conditions, this work was only done in the winter when the ground was frozen, so the survey was not completed for the entire county until 1834. Additionally, Lapeer County was originally much larger. The boundaries of the county were redrawn and land was lost to Genesee, Tuscola and Sanilac Counties. It was this original survey that determined the initial locations of many of the roads.
The first road coming from Macomb County into what is now Almont Township was cut in the summer of 1827 by William Allen, his son George Washington Allen (one of the founders of Dryden Township), James Thorington (the first settler in Washington Township in Macomb County) and Levi Washburn. To say it was a road is probably inaccurate. It was more like a cleared path, which would need improvements to be a fully functioning road.
This road/path would become M-53. Commonly known as Van Dyke, the original major road leading to Almont was designated as Michigan #53 or M-53 in the 1920s when the road was originally paved with concrete. Within Detroit, Van Dyke was named for James A. Van Dyke. He was a lawyer, alderman, and mayor of Detroit. As the road was extended north, the name moved with it. It is also known as the Earle Memorial Highway after the first State Highway Commissioner, Horatio S. Earle. A stone monument was initially placed at the curve of Van Dyke within the village where Howland Road splits off. The monument was dedicated on August 21, 1930, to honor Mr. Earle. The monument has since been moved to Edward Murphy Memorial Park near the Clinton River. The road runs from near downtown Detroit northward to the northern tip of the thumb at Port Austin.
In 1844, Robert Davison of Detroit founded the Plank Road Company to construct a toll road from the Imlay Mill located northwest of Imlay City through Almont, Romeo, Washington and Disco to Detroit. The Plank Road was constructed with the assistance of farmers along the route. Oak stringers were embedded in the ground and then eight-foot planks of oak or hemlock were placed on the stringers. Many of the planks were milled at the Webster sawmill on Webster Road. The planks were not nailed to the stringers because nails could injure the horses and livestock traveling on the road. Appropriately, the road was called the Plank Road. About 1867, the County was constructing most of the road system we have today and the Plank Road became a gravel road. What it was called between then and when it became Van Dyke in the 1920s is not presently known.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or email@example.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.